If I didn’t go to St. Louis to visit my family – especially my super-cute niece and nephews – I would probably consider going just for the food. Seriously. I know people who make special trips for pulled pork at Pappy’s Smokehouse; the day I went the line stretched all the way around its brick facade and up Lindell Boulevard toward my old high school. President Obama liked his Pi Pizza so much he not only called the owners to thank them for the meal, but he flew them to the White House for a cook-in. The big regional grocery chain has a gourmet outpost in the middle of Downtown to cater to the loft-dwelling crowd. There’s so much going on there’s even a quite excellent, and successful, free food magazine called Sauce that’s distributed all over the area.

Those of you who may remember St. Louis as the land of toasted ravioli, Amighetti Specials, Imo’s pizza might be surprised to hear that it’s unmistakably become a foodie town. Thirty years ago, the chicken salad from Straub’s was one of the hottest items in town. A family going out for dinner might choose a Pasta House restaurant for the generous portions of tangy house salad and pasta con broccoli. Mom and dad on date night probably preferred Charlie Gitto’s on the Hill, with its darkened decor, discreet tuxedo-clad waiters nodding appreciatively over their choices of chicken saltimbocca and cannelloni. And for really special occasions, when they wanted to go a little crazy, they’d head down to French-influenced Balaban’s in the Central West End for a little cucumber bisque and beef Wellington.

The stuff that was good then continues to do well – Straub’s is still churning out that chicken salad, and it’s still the best around. Charlie Gitto’s has multiple locations now, even one on a casino riverboat (another thing that didn’t exist in my childhood St. Louis). You can buy Pasta House-branded frozen toasted ravioli in the grocery store. But Balaban’s was reinvented as Herbie’s under the new foodie culture, and there’s so, so, so, many more new and awesome places . . . I got this email from a friend recently and turned it over to my sisters-in-law, they of fabulous taste who are completely dialed in.

I just need a few of your favorite STL restaurant recommendations. Looking for upscale to business-casual. Good wine lists where appropriate. Italian, seafood, steakhouse, American cuisine/cafe. East of 270, with preference to downtown/midtown convenience..

They sent back such thoughtful and interesting lists, I’m posing them here for you.


  • Liluma in the Central West End. John has taken his salespeople here and everyone loved it. A block from the Chase.
  • Brasserie by Niche, also in the CWE. This is a very hot spot right now, and if you want to go for dinner, you won’t get in without reservations.
  • Niche, in the Benton Park neighborhood in the City. LOVE this restaurant. Love the atmoshphere. Chef is out of this world, probably the most acclaimed in STL right now. MUST have reservations.
  • Five on the Hill. Went here before their move to the Hill. Outstanding.
  • Lorenzo’s on the Hill. Known for their gnocchi.
  • Monarch in Midtown.
  • Anthony’s Bar. The restaurant on the other side of Tony’s kitchen. Anthony’s menu is bar food, but I believe you can ask for the Tony’s menu and order off of that. Confirm this before you go.
  • Cafe Napoli, in the heart of Clayton. Great menu, great outdoor seating for great people watching. http://www.cafenapoli.com/home.html
  • Another great restaurant in Soulard is Franco. Love this place! Right next to Soulard Market.

List #2 – you’ll see some overlap here; she expanded to include a few more nice/casual spots. Duff’s and Dressel’s date back from the my old days in St. Louis; I’ve been to Dressel’s recently and it’s nicely renovated, very clean (!), and with a great updated menu.

  • Herbies – upscale bistro – Central West End
  • Modesto – Spanish Tapas – The Hill
  • Five – Bistro (some farm to table stuff) – The Hill
  • Salt – Upscale – Central West End
  • Duff’s – casual American – Central West End
  • Dressels – Welsh pub with some nicer entrees- Central West End
  • Brassiere – Casual French – Central West End
  • Rasoi – Indian – Central West End
  • Lorenzo’s – upscale Italian – The Hill
  • Mama Campisi’s – Casual Italian – The Hill
  • Pi – upscale pizza – Central West End and The Loop
  • King and I – Thai – South Grand
  • Sanctuaria – upscale Mexian – The Grove
  • Sweetie Pies – soul food – The Grove
  • Robust– Wine bar with lots of yummy food- Webster Groves
  • Monarch – New Orleans style bisto – Maplewood
  • Acero– Italian – Maplewood
  • Schlafy Bottleworks – local brewery and restaurant  – Maplewood
  • Michaels – Casual Greek – Maplewood
  • Home Wine Kitchen – YUM some farm to table stuff – Maplewood

Several St. Louis chefs are featured in this gorgeously presented Bryant Family Cookbook. Vince Bommarito, Bill Cardwell, and Bryan Carr share recipes with the likes of Eric Ripert, Thomas Keller, and Alexandra Guarnaschelli – names you’ll recognize if you’re a Food Network fan. Check it out: